Only well-staffed polling places can help avoid a repeat of Georgia’s primary, when voters in some packed precincts waited for hours to cast their ballots. Poll workers are needed to make democracy work in this year’s presidential election, when over 5 million voters are expected.
“They need everybody they can get,” said Marilee Coughlin, who was a poll worker for the first time this year in Cherokee County. “It’s a fascinating way to see how our democracy works. That sounds hokey, but it’s true.”
Coughlin, a retired former director at Dragon Con, helped manage crowds of voters, making sure they were socially distanced and telling them what to expect from Georgia’s new voting system, which uses touchscreens to print out paper ballots.
Georgians have responded to Facebook advertisements and outreach efforts from groups including the secretary of state’s office, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber spread the word about the demand for poll workers, asking companies to encourage their employees to lend a hand. Some businesses are giving employees paid time off to work the polls.
Over 1,000 people have volunteered so far, doing their part to prevent the kind of voting problems seen during the primary, said Dave Williams, a vice president for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Many are coming from Delta Air Lines, which contacted active employees, retirees and those on leave.
“We can do better, we need to do better, and we are committed to being a part of that process,” Williams said.
Poll workers will ultimately be hired by their county’s election offices, and not all of those who applied will make the cut. Some will decide they don’t want to work a 14-hour-plus day for pay generally ranging from $60 to $140, though some counties pay more.
The average age of poll workers in Georgia is over 65, and many of them backed out from the job because of the coronavirus.
“When COVID-19 swept through Georgia, Georgia’s vulnerable elderly poll workers stayed home to stay safe from the pandemic,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “Through these public-private partnerships, we will fill the gaps with younger poll workers and help provide a smooth and efficient experience.”
Students can help fill the pressing need for poll workers, said Evan Malbrough, who founded the Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project, a nonprofit that recruits young people for the job.
Malbrough, a recent graduate from Georgia State University, signed up to work at the polls last spring as internships and job offers dried up because of the coronavirus pandemic. He worked as an election technician at the Pittman Park precinct, setting up equipment and troubleshooting problems.
“There are a lot of people like me who have lost economic opportunities because of COVID-19, and there’s an election that needs to be staffed,” Malbrough said. “Young people know technology, and they might be able to better respond when there are issues.”
Poll workers can be as young as 16 years old, and they must be a resident or employee of the county where they want to serve.
The job requires a few hours of training and a commitment to work as long as needed on Election Day.
Workers will be tasked with greeting voters, checking them in, helping them use voting computers, and making sure they deposit their paper ballots into scanners to be counted. Poll workers cancel absentee ballots of people who decide to vote in person and resolve problems as they arise.
They’ll also keep voters socially distanced, clean surfaces and sanitize voter access cards.
Professional athletes, including the Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery, also want to find new poll workers. Their organization, More Than a Vote, plans outreach efforts in a dozen states, including Georgia.
Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said good help is always hard to find, but the problem worsened because of COVID-19. She’s trying to find 1,500 poll workers for the presidential election.
“We’re looking for people who can work with the public and can work with the somewhat technical equipment,” Eveler said. “It takes some stamina. Everybody knows they’ll work a long day, but they have to stay friendly.”
Poll workers will continue to be hired until soon before Election Day, but the next couple of weeks are a critical time to find reliable employees. Poll workers will be expected to attend several hours of training courses in September or October to prepare them for throngs of voters on Nov. 3 for Election Day.
How to become a poll worker
Poll workers must be at least 16 years old, a resident of the county where they want to work, and able to read, write and speak English.
Anyone can sign up to become a poll worker, but hiring decisions are made by each county’s elections office. The job generally pays $60 to $140 for entry-level poll workers on Election Day, plus a supplement for training. Some counties pay higher wages.
Georgians interested in becoming a poll worker can sign up through the secretary of state’s website at securevotega.com/pollworkerrecruitment. The state then sends voter information to counties.
Prospective poll workers can also register through gapollworker.com, thegeorgiayouthpollworkerproject.org, govotega.org/pollworkers or acluga.org/pollworkers. In addition, anyone can apply directly by contacting their county’s elections office.